Atlas Excerpt #4: The Aborted Multiethnic Parish of Chicago

Recently, Holy Cross Orthodox Press published the Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches, edited by Alexei D. Krindatch. I contributed several pieces to the Atlas, including the article “Ten Interesting Facts About the History of Orthodox Christianity in the USA.” With Alexei’s permission, we’re publishing excerpts of that article here at OrthodoxHistory.org. To purchase your own copy of the Atlas (for $19.95), click here.

4. In 1888, the Orthodox of Chicago tried – but failed – to establish a multiethnic Orthodox parish.

By 1888, there were about a thousand Orthodox in Chicago. Most of them were Greeks and Serbs, and despite the fact that they weren’t Russian, they petitioned the nearest bishop – who was Russian – to send them a priest. In 1888, Bishop Vladimir Sokolovsky responded to their petition by asking them to hold a meeting, to gauge there was enough interest to support a church. The main speakers at the meeting were a Greek, a Montenegrin, and a Serb. George Brown, who emigrated from Greece as a young man, had fought in the American Civil War. He gave a short speech, saying, “Union is the strength… If our language is two, our religion is one… We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.”

Everyone at the meeting agreed to start a parish, with services in both Greek and Slavonic. Bishop Vladimir visited later that year, but unfortunately, he soon became embroiled in a series of scandals in San Francisco. One of his strongest opponents was a Montenegrin whose brother was a leader in the Chicago community. Hearing reports of the crisis, the Chicago Orthodox decided they wanted nothing more to do with the bishop, and instead contacted the Churches of Constantinople, Greece, and Serbia.

Eventually, the Church of Greece sent a priest. He established Chicago’s first Orthodox parish in 1892, specifically for Greek people. One month later, a Russian church was founded. For the first time in American Orthodox history, two churches answering to different ecclesiastical authorities coexisted in the same U.S. city. But despite their separation based on language and ethnicity, the two churches still got along well. In 1894, the Greek and Russian priests served together at the Russian church to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Russian mission to Alaska. When the Russian Tsar died the following month, both priests held a memorial at the Greek church, which was simultaneously dedicating its new building. When the new Russian bishop, Nicholas Ziorov, visited Chicago, the local Greek priest participated in the hierarchical services. Later on, in 1902, Russian church bell was stolen, and the Greek priest invited his Russian counterpart to come to the Greek church and ask the parishioners for help. The two churches, held a joint meeting in an effort to find the bell. Chicago thus represents both an early manifestation of “jurisdictional pluralism” and a wonderful example of inter-ethnic Orthodox cooperation.